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HyperCard is an application program and a simple programming environment produced by Apple Computer for the Apple Macintosh computer. It most closely resembles a database application in concept, in that it stores information, but unlike traditional database systems HyperCard is very flexible and trivially easy to modify. In addition HyperCard includes a powerful and easy to use programming language to manipulate that data, one that is so easy to use that most HyperCard users used it as a programming system as opposed to a database.


HyperCard was designed by Bill Atkinson and released first in 1987, agreeing to give it to Apple only if they promised to release it for free on all Macs. Originally called WildCard during its development, its name was changed to HyperCard before official release due to legal issues. The HyperCard application and its associated files retained a creator code of WILD, reflecting this period of development.

HyperCard was a huge hit almost instantly. No one had seen anything like it on any machine prior to its release, and the power and ease of use was unmatched even today. A huge number of people who thought they would never be able to program a computer started using HyperCard for all sorts of automation tasks, a surprise to even its creator.

Apple itself never seemed to understand what HyperCard was. Management saw that it was being used by a huge number of people, and bug reports and upgrade suggestions continued to flow in from a wide variety of users, clearly people were interested in it. However it was also free, which made it difficult to justify dedicating engineering resources to improving it. Unwilling, or unable, to see that HyperCard was making the Macintosh platform as a whole much more interesting to the market, management let languish.

Things started changing in late 1989, when internal politics (largely the efforts of Kevin Calhoun) finally gained enough momentum to start an upgrade process. This resulted in 1990s HyperCard 2.0, a massive improvement on the original. Additional features, notably support for color, were promised.

Then, seemingly to add insult to injury, Apple decided that all software should be a part of their Claris[?] division. An agreement was reached in which Claris would sell an editor product, whereas Apple would include only a "viewer" in order to keep their original promise to Bill Atkinson. People would now have to pay to use the product which many considered to be a basic part of the Mac.

Claris, in the business of selling software for a profit, didn't take kindly to the concept of adding resources to a project that was given away for free. They dedicated no resources to it, and many of the developers refused to move from Apple in the first place. Eventually Apple gave up and brought HyperCard back to Apple, releasing a small series of minor upgrades in the process.

Several attempts were made to re-start HyperCard. The product was eventually rolled into the QuickTime group as it seemed to have something to do with multimedia, and a new effort to allow HyperCard to be used to create QuickTime movies started under the direction of Kevin Calhoun. Demos of this HyperCard 3.0 were made throughout the late 1990s, including every feature one could ask for, color support, internet connectivity, and the ability to be displayed in a web browser with no effort. For some reason the product was never released.

This, after years of continued on-again, off-again upgrades and general mismanagement, was enough to finally kill the product. What started as a groundbreaking effort that seemed to be changing the world died the death of a thousand cuts and slowly disappeared as users grew fed up with what was now an outdated product.

HyperCard is one of the first products that made use of and popularized the hypertext concept to a large popular base of users. Hypercard saw a loss in popularity with the growth of the World Wide Web, since the web could handle and deliver data in much the same way, and the interconnectivity offered by the Internet was seen by most as the clear choice for this type of use.

Other companies were quick to see the power of HyperCard and offer their own versions. SuperCard was essentially a color version of HyperCard on the Mac, and Toolbox was a Windows version. Oracle purchased a cross-platform clone and released it as OracleCard, renamed Oracle Media Objects, used as a 4GL for database access.

In addition, many of the basic concepts of the original system were later re-used in other forms. Apple built their system-wide scripting engine AppleScript on the HyperTalk language, but it too suffered from the same sort of mismanagement as HyperCard until recently. One of HyperCard's strengths was its handling of multimedia, and many multimedia systems like Macromedia Authorware[?] are based on many of the concepts.

A successor product called Runtime Revolution done by a company in Edinburgh is able to read Hypercard stacks and uses a similar concept. The scripting language is compatible with HyperTalk. The stacks produced with Revolution run on Mac, Windows and Linux. A stack produced on a Mac may even be changed on a Windows system and then brought back to the Mac again with the change implemented.


HyperCard is based on the concept of "stack" of virtual "cards". Each card includes fields that store data, and the pattern for each card (its layout, as opposed to the data in the layout) is known as the "background". Backgrounds could include pictures (its original purpose, "background picture"), picture fields, buttons, text, text fields (editors) and other common GUI elements, which would then be copied onto new cards.

Users can construct databases by opening the Background editor and drawing items onto it to hold the various pieces of data. For instance, an address book could be easily built up by adding a few text fields to hold the name and address. Once completed, the user simply adds a new card (command-n) and types into the fields. The background could be modified at any time, allowing changed to be made with ease – something traditional systems are very bad at. Basic operations such a search, add and delete were built into the HyperCard enviornment, allowing simple databases to be set up and used by anyone able to use the Apple Macintosh computer.

Scripting in the HyperTalk language allowed the system to be easily modified and extended. Unlike most programming languages, even those that claim to be easy to use, HyperTalk really was easy to use. Allowable syntax included all sorts of versions of the same statement, all in readable English, to avoid forcing the user to write their programs in a particular format.

For instance, put the first word of the third line of field 'hello' into field 'goodbye' would do exactly what it seems to do. Achieving this sort of simplicity and readability required considerable work. For instance, it required allowing numbers to be specified either numerically (1, 2), as cardinals (one, two), or as ordinals (first, second), a "bother" that most languages would ignore, but one that dramatically improves readability.

Since the HyperCard world was limited to those items supported on the Background, refering to objects and the items on them was very easy. The example above shows how to access data within a field on a particular card, but one could refer to any object in the same basic fashion – incluing the stack itself. To make things even easier to refer to, all objects could be named, as in the example above.

Of particular interest was HyperCard's find command which would navigate to cards containing text. Whereas under a RDBMS something as simple as finding all records with the word "Bob" is a very difficult task, under HyperCard it was as simple as find 'Bob'. This could then be made more selective with modifications such as find 'Bob' in card field 'hello'.

Adding scripts was also easy. The user simply "option-clicked" on any element in the stack, and an editor would pop-up. The script could then be edited, saved, and used immediately. HyperCard 2.0 added a fairly powerful and easy-to-use debugger as well.

HyperTalk was so easy to use that one of the main uses was not as a database, but as a programming tool. Thousands of "stacks" were written and distributed in the few years when HyperCard was widely available.

The power of HyperCard can be increased significantly through the use of external command modules, or XCMDs. XCMDs are small code fragments packaged in a resource file[?] that seemlessly integrate into the system and/or the HyperTalk language. During it's peak popularity in the late 1980s, a whole ecology of vendors offered thousands of XCMDs for everything from HyperTalk compilers, to graphing systems, database access, internet connectivity and practically everything else. Many of these had their businesses destroyed when HyperCard was handed to Claris.

HyperCard can be used for all sorts of hypertext and artistic purposes. Before the advent of PowerPoint, HyperCard was often used as a general purpose presentation program. Examples of HyperCard applications include simple databases, "choose your own adventure"-type games, and educational teaching aids. Through conversion to a related program called Supercard, HyperCard stacks can be placed inside Web pages and viewed by browsers with an appropriate browser plugin. The drawback to this is that only Macintosh computers can use the plugin.

External links:

Apple's HyperCard 2.4 (http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore?productLearnMore=M6561LL/A)
- Apple's only page on HyperCard, an ordering page on the AppleStore
SuperCard (http://www.supercard.us/)
- one of the first HyperCard clones, still available all these years later
MetaCard (http://www.metacard.com/)
- a cross-platform HyperCard clone
Revolution (http://www.runrev.com/)
- a powerful development enviornment based on MetaCard
WinPlus download (http://www.angelfire.com/ab2/literacy/win)
- another HyperCard clone for Microsoft Windows, since died. This page has the "viewer" version for download
HyperSense (http://www.thoughtful.com/hypersense/index)
- another HyperCard clone, originally for NeXT but now available on MacOS X as well
A list of HyperCard links (http://members.aol.com/hcheaven/links/links)

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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